SInce 1959 researchers and scholars have continued to uncover and explore the works of Lorraine Hansberry, including through biographical and literary overviews; literary and dramatic criticism; exploration of Hansberry’s black female radicalism; development of resources for young readers; and several excellent web-based educational resources.
When Lorraine Hansberry died at thirty-four, she left a wide and rich dramatic heritage, although only a small part of it was visible then, and some parts have yet to become known. When all of her work is brought into view, she should be seen as one of the most important playwrights of this century, not simply on the basis of the one play already considered a classic, but on her collective work.
—Steven R. Carter, Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment Amid Complexity (1991)
Following the production of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959, there have been numerous theater reviews and newspaper articles about the play, as well as literary and dramatic criticism. This includes material specifically focused on Hansberry v. Lee, a class action lawsuit argued before the Supreme Court in 1940. The ruling—in favor of Carl Hansberry, Lorraine Hansberry’s father—invalidated a racially restrictive covenant barring African Americans from purchasing or leasing land in white Chicago neighborhoods. In addition to A Raisin in the Sun, two additional Hansberry plays were produced on Broadway and have received significant critical attention from critics and scholars: The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1964) which looks at the question of commitment and Les Blancs (1970), a play about African anticolonial freedom struggles.The To Be Young, Gifted and Black, adapted from Hansberry’s works-in-progress, plays, essays, articles, speeches, interviews, diary entries, poetry, and letters by Hansberry's former husband, Robert Nemiroff presented Hansberry’s contributions as an activist and writer through her own words. Scholars have used these materials to draw a complex of portrait of the writer.
After Hansberry’s death in 1965 her former husband, Robert Nemiroff, and later his wife Jewell Handy Gresham-Nemiroff, as executor of the Lorraine Hansberry Estate, undertook several projects to preserve the legacy of Lorraine Hansberry. The collected papers, now housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, include fiction, poetry, and several other plays and screenplays, including The Drinking Gourd and What Use Are Flowers?, Toussaint, and Masters of the Dew. Also archived are articles, correspondence, and other materials relating to Hansberry’s activism including files for Camp Unity, the Labor Defense League, the 1952 Montevideo Peace Conference, her journalistic writings for Freedom newspaper, Freedomways, and The Movement: Document for a Struggle for Equality, and the FBI files on Hansberry that were obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
In his commitment to collecting and organizing Hansberry’s unpublished and published papers, Nemiroff asserted Hansberry’s status as a theater artist but also drew attention to the ways her contributions as an artist actively involved in literary, political, and activist communities helped to shape Black freedom struggles. Hansberry’s affiliation with the Communist left of the post-World War II era through her relationships with Paul Robeson and W. W. E. B. Du Bois, her pro-peace Cold War radicalism, and her internationalism that supported both anticolonial African independence movements and US-based Black Power movements was integral to her examination and critique of feminist, gender, and sexuality analyses. The depth and breadth of the collection has given researchers crucialopportunities to trace a complex, intertwined legacy of Hansberry’s Black radicalism as an artist, activist, public intellectual, and writer.
The following bibliographies aim to gather some of the significant secondary resources about the life and work of Lorraine Hansberry. They are a mix of scholarly and popular writing; they are not exhaustive and we look forward to updating them. More information about Hansberry's published work can be found under Works and Primary Resources. You can also find excerpts from Hansberry's published material in our archive of Hansberry quotes, In Her Own Words. The unpublished materials—including materials relating to Hansberry's activism as well as diaries, journals, and personal correspondence—are primarily collected in the Lorraine Hansberry Papers housed at the Schomburg Center for Reseach in Black Culture. Artwork by Hansberry can be found in the Gallery.
Literary and Dramatic Criticism